Beginning With Good Habits

Ajahn Yatiko • June 2013

It is possible to have freedom from a mind that seems compulsively locked into habits and mind movements. We have the ability to completely put aside those habits and rest in a silent, quiet, spacious, aware, calm, and devotional place. The path that leads to this place is the path laid out by the Buddha—a transformative path releasing us from the habits of mind that cause us suffering.

As far as habits go, it’s much easier to develop good habits right from the beginning rather than trying to correct our bad habits once they’ve set in. When people first come to live at a monastery— especially junior monks, novices, anagārikas, or long-term lay residents—that is the time for them to develop good habits. It’s much easier to accomplish in the early years, because the energy to do so is most available and present. So that’s the time to reflect on and establish the practices recommended by the Buddha.

Whenever we perform an action there’s a tendency for that action to be repeated—that’s an aspect of kamma. If we chose to act in a certain way under certain conditions, then whenever those conditions recur, we’re likely to act in the same way. When new monastics often get caught up into busyness, distraction, and work projects, then it’s likely they will continue getting caught up like that as time progresses. It will become their habit. Fortunately, this applies to our wholesome actions as well.

It is a great refuge for us to recollect that we’ve exerted a significant amount of effort in various aspects of the practice—study, meditation, different devotional practices, service, and other wholesome actions. This is a meaningful source of comfort, because we know that what we’ve done in the past is repeatable—we have established an ability to practice well. This can give us a sense of satisfaction, which is especially important when we’re going through a difficult and challenging stretch. If I had never put forth effort in my early years, I think it would be very difficult for me to establish those wholesome habits for the first time now, because I wouldn’t know I was capable of practicing in that way.